'Golden son of Sarawak' laid to rest

Former Sarawak Chief Minister and Governor Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, who passed away on Friday aged 87, is remembered by people close to him as "a witty individual, outstanding public speaker and, above all else, someone who was fundamental to many things Sarawak - from the formation of Malaysia to the development of Petronas and the timber industry".

To his closest kin, Abdul Rahman, or Yakub as he was better know, was a father first. For him, his family was always the priority.

"He was the happiest when surrounded by grandchildren," said eldest daughter Norlia, who described him as a "big hearted individual".

"Our house was always, always, open to everyone. He never locked the house doors."

Norlia said her father's last moments were with his family. "He asked for a drink to clean his mouth and then he went off, just like that," she said, choking up with grief.

One of the earliest to pay respects at the family home was Deputy Home Affairs Minister Datuk Junaidi Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

"I should have known him better for I got married in his house (an older property, not Sri Bahagia, the current family home)," said Junaidi.

"My wife was one of his adopted children. He was very nice but I never got to know him well. He was a politician in those days and I was just a policeman."

Abdul Rahman was the state's third Chief Minister, serving between July 1970 and March 1981. He went on to serve as Governor from April 1981 until 1985.

His life story is one of rising from rags to prominence. Born into poverty, he was the sixth of seven children in a fishing family and he held many jobs during his early life.

He worked as an interpreter for the Japanese Governor during World War Two, a trainee oil tester for Shell, and as a toilet janitor at Sarawak General Hospital before securing a scholarship to read law at Southampton University.

He was in his mid-30s when he entered politics as one of the first MPs from Sarawak when Malaysia was formed in 1963. He served in the Federal Cabinet before returning to become Chief Minister.

He had very close links with Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, and later with Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.

Assoc Prof Dr Andrew Aeria of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said Abdul Rahman was a very loyal man.

"His years at the helm of the state were considered the dawn of politics for Sarawak," he said.

Aeria said Abdul Rahman formed a coalition state government with the then opposition SUPP in the 1970s and ended the communist insurgency in the state by convincing one of its leaders, Bong Kee Chok, to surrender along with nearly 500 of his supporters.

In his later years, Abdul Rahman was known to tell visitors of his friendship with Bong, describing it as a highlight of his career.

Aeria said Abdul Rahman's years at the helm also saw the rise of bumiputra tycoons and the start of the state's massive timber industry.

He was also responsible for opening doors to politics for Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, his nephew, who became the fourth Chief Minister.

"Taib was given more than a leg-up in politics because of his uncle," Aeria added.

In the mid-1980s, Abdul Rahman and Taib faced off in what is now infamously referred to as the Ming Court Crisis. Uncle and nephew were at a political standoff. Taib ultimately prevailed and subsequently strengthened his hold over Sarawak politics, with PBB becoming the dominant party.

Although the facts of that episode might differ depending on who is asked, no one would dispute Abdul Rahman's oratory skills.

A fluent speaker of Bahasa Malaysia, Melanau, Iban and Chinese dialects, and who indulged in golf and ballroom ­dancing, Abdul Rahman was an interesting person.

State Immigration Department director Datuk Robert Lian used the word "flamboyant" to describe him.

Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem called him the "golden son of Sarawak" who was usually at the centre stage of the state's major events.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim compared him to Sukarno, the first President of Indonesia.

"I was in school when I first heard about him. When we heard him, we knew he could really give a speech. He just knew how to get the audience's attention," Rohani said.

Abdul Rahman was buried at the Samariang Muslim Cemetery, Kuching, in a funeral attended by family, friends and the state's highest-ranking officials.

Thousands paid their last respects at Sri Bahagia and later at the State Mosque, both of which are along the main Petra Jaya boulevard.

State Cabinet members turned out in full force, as did the top brass of the armed forces and the police.

He leaves behind wives Toh Puan Hayati Ahmad (who lived with him till his demise), Zambin Rokiah Mohd Tahir and Siti Maemunah Kamal (both live in Kuala Lumpur), and 12 daughters, four sons, 47 grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and three adopted children.